Monday, November 25, 2013

More evidence of harm by religion.

Well, we're back at sniping at the Catholic Church.

A theme of mine has always been how religion (ANY religion) can be harmful to humanity.  That the very precepts that make it what it is are so easily manipulated into something that supports violence, bigotry, patriarchy and other evils that it should be seen by humanity as inherently harmful and chucked into the waste bins of history.

Yes, I understand how those same precepts are often used for good, and that there are millions of people who do good obeying those same ideals.

The problem is, when people, individually, obey those ideals and do good, they are doing it one person at a  time.  When church officials and politicians use them to justify evil, that evil affects often millions of people at once.

Case in point.

Remember the hurricane in the Philippines a while back?  Remember how that monster was the biggest, well, typhoon (not hurricane, that is in the Pacific) to hit land with the highest wind speeds EVER?

The destruction, as you might imagine, was equally historic in scope.  Countries around the world have been sending assistance and money to help.

So, what does the Roman Catholic Church, the oldest, richest most influential church in the world do to help?  Does it send money?  Food?  Medical supplies?  Remember, the Philippines is a big follower of the Catholic Church!

No.  It sends rosaries.  And bibles.  So, when the Pope twitters to his followers that they need to help too, what does he advise?  Sending money or food?  No, he suggests prayer.

He could have suggested prayer AS WELL AS sending money or food.  But, I guess that would have taken up valuable shipping space that might have been used for his rosaries and bibles instead, huh?

Or maybe would have sent his tweet over the character limit, so they had to leave that part out...

See what I mean?  Instead of sending real assistance that survivors of a natural disaster really need to continue being survivors, they send useless crap, and let their followers do a simple prayer instead of money, letting them think that by doing the Pope's bidding, they've done something to help!

Instead of using valuable shipping space for valuable survival supplies instead of useless crap or sending money, which is the most valuable assistance ever.

Thus preventing real assistance from getting to where it needs to be sooner.

Folks, this is real harm.  This is not helping, even if you think prayer does some good.  But prayer doesn't increase shipping cubage.  It doesn't buy food, or medicine or temporary shelter.  It doesn't bring in doctors and the medical facilities that allow them to do their jobs.

It merely lets people thousands of miles away essentially talk to themselves, thinking they'e done some good.  Instead of nothing substantial.

Harm, pure and simple.  An excellent example.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Big News!

Today brought a big victory - albeit a bit delayed - for secularists fighting for Separation of Church and State.

The District Court of the Western District of Wisconsin, presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb, ruled that the oft-called “parish exemption,” which allows religious ministers to avoid paying taxes on the value of their housing granted to them by their religious employers, “violates the establishment clause” of the U.S. Constitution and must be discontinued.

The problem with this exemption is that it allows a double dip, as the law allows a minister to both pay no taxes on a housing allowance, but to later also take the standard tax deduction for the interest and property taxes paid using that same money.

In affect, getting paid for taking out a mortgage!

Now, the ruling was essentially put on hold until the appeals process is ended or the time frame allowing an appeal ends, which ever is later.

But one can guarantee that the right wing will begin a full throated attack on this ruling as another "attack" on religion.  Privilege, it seems, cannot be abridged, unless through "attack".

It will be interesting to see if this survives an appeal to the Supreme Court.

I know many of us would prefer to see ALL religious tax exemptions be lifted, but, well, sometimes baby steps are all you get!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Evolution, DNA, and Genealogy

Today, for not much over a hundred bucks, you can get a DNA test that will reveal the secrets of where your family came from in a broad general sense.  It can reveal other secrets, like hidden genetic illnesses and such as well.

I am sorely tempted to take the plunge.

But there is a word of caution for the faint of heart.  Watch out for what you are asking, the answers may not reveal what you think.  I am reminded here of the white supremacist recently who discovered that one of his great, great grandparents was black.  Cherished family history stories may turn out to be just that - stories!

Not that I would be terribly disappointed.  To me, the most disappointing would be to turn out to have a perfectly vanilla family history with NO surprises.  I'd almost love to see an odd twist here or there.

Genealogy is fun and interesting.  Here are a couple of things about human genealogy you may not know.

To the human race as a whole, you are merely a repository of DNA.  Your purpose is to replicate that DNA in the person of your kids to ensure the continuation of the species.  The physical manner of how this works is fascinating.  You have two parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents.  Each generation back, in essence, doubles the number of humans who contributed to your DNA.


Assuming 40 years per generation, going back 1000 years, if you are from Europe, you are related to over 34 million people, which is over 90% of the population of Europe at the time!

Which kind of illustrates how mixed up and varied your DNA history might be.  Europe was a hotbed of migrations, wars, invasions and other population mixing and destabilizing influences, and the centuries after 1000 CE were not the most stable from a political standpoint.

Most Americans don't record much family history.  Records of individuals are spotty going back as little as a hundred years.  Back then, many people weren't literate, and going back a mere hundred more, MOST people could not read, at least not much.  The US has census records going back to the 18th century (late), but those early records didn't have much on kids' names, only parents, and where they did, they only recorded male names.  Girls weren't important, and really only kids over five were given a name anyway, given the high infant mortality rates.  Since literacy wasn't widespread, spelling wasn't standardized, names were often misspelled, or spelled differently from census to census or on other government or church records.

So, documenting birth and death records was spotty, and finding the ones that were kept is not easy today, even with the internet.  Finding out much more than that is even harder. 

So the fact that our family records document one line of our family going back to the late 17th century is kind of cool!  That's in Germany, if you are curious.
So, yes, I am interested in getting the DNA test done, if only to see what other information may lurk in there to inform and direct my future genealogical searches.

But, to all of you out there, what I want to say is this.

Keep records.  Write down stories.  Tell your kids about your parents, your siblings, your aunts and uncles and cousins.  Family history is all about who we are.  What we did, where we lived and how we made our way through life.

It's all about people like my Aunt Daisy, who had (supposedly) five husbands and never would ride over a bridge in one of those new fangled motor cars.  Or Gandpa Bob (my great grandfather) who was a 32nd degree Mason and was so superstitious, he'd go blocks out of his way to avoid the path of a black cat that had crossed his!  Or my father, who once broke his leg trying to impress a girl with how he could emulate the carnival's human fly climbing the brick wall of the local hardware store.

We all have our stories, and those stories make up our family history.

Don't let them get lost.  Record them, remember the people, remember their stories.  Record the details, and pass them on.

These days, it isn't hard.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Education is critical! Fight back against the right wing attack!

The "National School Choice Week" is January 16 to February 1, 2014.  

Sounds good, right?  I mean, "choice" is always good, and is at the basis of our personal freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution, right?


Well, that's the right wing's theme when it comes to education, anyway.  (Don't even think that word when talking about abortion, or women's health care, though, just sayin’!)  That’s what they want you to think - that the most important thing about education is your right to choose the school your kids go to.

The problem is, too many of even the most evangelical folks choose public education.  Why?  Cost.  Public education is free, supported by our taxes.  Why is that a problem for the right wing?  Because for every child who goes to public school, that represents thousands of dollars that does NOT get spent at sectarian, religious institutions!  (Not to mention the real science based education they often get instead of bible based mythology.)

That is why Republicans support school vouchers, under the rubric of “school choice”.  It is a way of taking public education dollars and funneling them into those sectarian, religious schools that most evangelicals cannot afford.

Enter "National School Choice Week”.  Their website is quite neutral sounding, and seems very benign.  They claim to be nonpartisan and politically neutral.  But in their handbook, listen to this:

 Open enrollment policies provide increased education options within traditional public schooling. Open enrollment allows parents to select the best public schools for their children, regardless of where those schools are located. Depending on the state or local open enrollment policy, this means that parents can choose any public school within a district (intra-district school choice), or, in some cases, outside of their home district (inter-district school choice).

Notice the language used here.  “…regardless of where those schools are located.”  This is traditional language used by parents who want to take their kids away from a local school filled with minorities and send them to a school across town where the percentages of white kids is higher.

School vouchers, also touted by these folks, takes the concept of choice one step further.  The idea is that parents should have the freedom to not only choose an alternative school for their kids, but take that public education money with them.  A voucher takes that money away from the local school their kids would have attended and gives it to the private institution they end up sending their kids to.

Which defunds that public school.  This is another tactic used by the right wing - defund public education as much as possible, under the excuse that the State is spending too much on schools and cannot afford the expense.   When the schools then begin to fail, criticize them, attack them and claim that public education is inefficient, ineffective and that private schools are better, cheaper and affords parents the choice public schools do not.

Obviously, this completely ignores the fact that a majority of parents, of whatever racial background, cannot afford private schools.  Enter the voucher program, which fortunately, is even more underfunded than the schools are, effectively limiting the vouchers to mostly white middle class parents sending their kids to religious evangelical schools!

Enter Sarah Jones, at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  She has written an excellent critique of the “National School Choice Week” in the form of an open letter, written by Steve Nelson of Manhattan’s prestigious Calhoun School.

She quotes him at one point:

“You say you hope ‘schools that participate find the Week to be an enjoyable, rewarding and celebratory time.’ Is that really what you hope?” he wrote.

“Or do you hope that your work, funded by the most conservative, anti-union, anti-progressive and anti-teacher forces in America, will accelerate the demise of public education in America?”
She goes on to say:

As Nelson notes in his letter, National School Choice Week is funded by an array of conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party outfit that enjoys the support of former Fox News bloviator Glenn Beck.

Not exactly “non-partisan”, is it?

Education is the most important way we can ensure that the United States remains a First World country.  Without a good, effective educational system, our traditionally high standard of living will not be possible moving into the future.

Steve Jobs once famously told President Obama that one of the reasons companies are moving jobs overseas is that the science-educated workers companies need for high tech manufacturing are not as available in the US as they are in other countries.

Let’s fight the right wing attack on US public education, shall we?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yes, your vote really does matter!

If I've heard it once, I've heard it ten thousand times, "Ah, why vote, one vote doesn't make any difference..."

I beg to differ.

In Virginia, Democrats have been fighting hard to take back the State government, in part to stop and possibly reverse the Republican War on Everybody Else they've been waging ever since they took over.

And, if Democrat Mark Herring, running for State Attorney General, survives the recount, they may have succeeded!
As of 11:30 p.m., the unofficial State Board of Elections tally had Herring up by 106 votes.Herring released his statement after the tally of provisional votes in Fairfax County added a net gain of 57 votes for the Democrat, which would give him a lead of 163 votes out of 2.2 million cast.
That's a margin of only 0.0074090909%.  That is, in case you don't realize it, less than 7 thousandths of a percent.   That makes a nice, bright, shiny, razor margin look like an old, rusty butter knife in comparison!

Out of the entire State of Virginia, the votes of 163 Democrats (assuming the margin holds after the inevitable recount) made the difference between Herring winning or losing.  If 164 Democrats had decided to stay home, the margin would be even thinner, and a Republican would have won.

It is a matter of record, long understood by both parties, that in most "swing" states, a larger turnout favors the Democrats.

In November of next year, GET YOUR ASSES OUT THERE AND VOTE!!!

'nuff said.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Child abuse - systemic and sickening.

If you go back and read all my posts (sit back and have a beer!), you'll notice that a majority of the ones about child abuse by clergy are about the Roman Catholic Church.  Not all by any means, but that's what was hitting the news at the time.

Today, I'm not sure if this has really hit the news, but this came sliding down my newsfeed on Facebook, and I just had to look.

One of the enduring themes on my blog is the harm religion does to society.  I try to note on a regular basis that I do recognize that not all religious people or religious ideas are in and of themselves harmful.  Yes, there have been good things and people come out of the various religions on this world.

But so have nasty, evil, harmful things.  Things that have been perpetuated over time and made part of the systematic inside workings of some religions.

Like a culture of raping young boys in the RCC, and turning an officially blind eye to the practice.  Enough news stories have come to my attention to make me believe that that particular practice is present in other religions as well, and may well be systematic in other places too.

Just such a story is what came to my attention today.

Take a minute to go and read the story.  Go ahead, I'm not going anywhere, I'll be here when you get back.  But, be warned!  The story is graphic, the description of the abuse will sicken you.  If you are in danger of flashbacks of similar abuse, I can excuse your refusal to read it.

This is a story of systemic, ingrained, oppressive evil.  This is what is known as evil incarnate.  If indeed, there could be a real, living breathing devil, he resides inside that community and grows stronger from the corruption, the pain and the horror of what transpires there.

If the RCC's systemic abuse of children is evil, this makes what they do look like cartoon caricatures of reality.

There is no way that an entire community where over 50% of the male population has been abused could be unaware of the situation.  This kind of evil enlists the whole group in its practice.  Through fear, corruption and violence, it perpetuates itself.  Since this kind of abuse tends, in untreated victims, to make its own new generation of abusers, how long until the entire group becomes one seething cesspool of corruption?  How long until the rabbis invent some theocratic justification for the ritual of abuse?  How long until it becomes a secret, but witnessed, rite of passage?

Is this what the Jewish religion has become?  Is this what they have allowed themselves to descend to after surviving the world's most terrible pogrom?

In the past, I have posted other news items citing similar abuse (but not so group-wide in its corrupting influence) in other religions.  Hindu, Islam, Christian and others.

What is it about religion that seems to target young boys?  Is it because they are more available?

One thing is for sure, this is NOT a sexually based crime.  I hope you understand that rape is a crime of violence and power.  It is intended to put the abuser in a position of power over the victim, to make the victim feel powerless.

As if speaking for a deity isn't enough power.  These people are insane.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Change of plans! (No curses today!)

I was planning on running a piece on curses - how American culture uses curse words to support misogyny and rape culture - but I changed my mind.

Today is Veteran's Day.  The day we supposedly set aside to tell Vets that we are appreciative of their service to the country.

I remember the Vietnam War.  I entered the Army at the end of that war, and never had a chance to serve in a combat theater.  Too late for Vietnam and too early for the Gulf Wars.  So, as you read this post, remember that even though I AM a Veteran, I am not a COMBAT Vet.  Never fired a shot in anger nor had one fired at me.

It is gratifying to see so many normal folks now doing the "thanks, vets" thing, and the Vietnam vets finally getting the recognition they deserve.  You know, the ones who were really there and really got shot at, compared to the guys like me that sat around the barracks in places like Europe and watched some of our fellow "soldiers" getting high and doing drugs.

I get thanked occasionally, when someone discovers I am a vet, and I really don't want to throw cold water on their parade by telling them I don't deserve it, because I don't want to discourage them from saying it to the guys that really do deserve that thanks.  But, really, I don't.

I know.  Some folks would say that military service is inherently dangerous, because of the equipment we use, some of which is frankly, not safe to operate.  While I was in Germany, an M113 armored personnel carrier like I drove was involved in an accident.  The driver was going too fast, and untrained as he apparently was, pulled the left track brake too hard at too high a speed.  His intention was to make a sharp left turn by halting the left track, so the vehicle would spin around on its left side center of gravity.

But when we were trained at Fort Knox (Those of us with the actual specialty for driving those vehicles and were trained to do it), they taught us that to use that brake (instead of the normal steering brake), you had to be going UNDER 15 miles per hour, if I remember correctly.  I think this guy was going around thirty or so, so he flipped the vehicle onto its top.

They scraped the track commander (who sits with his top half out of the center hatch) off the tarmac with a spatula.  That vehicle weighs 11 tons.

So, yes, I am aware of the dangers of serving and using military equipment.  That doesn't, in my mind, put me in the same class with guys who were getting shot at.  So, it makes me nervous to have someone thank me as if I did.

Another reason I am not happy about the "Thanks Vets!" thing is that as far as the government is concerned, it is not sincere.

I mean, come on, Congress just allowed an automatic cut of $5 billion to the SNAP program (depended on by many vets) to occur, without lifting a finger to do anything about it!  (When I say "Congress" here, read that as "Republicans in the House")  Now we hear they are talking about an effort to cut more!

There is a laundry list of bills "Congress" has failed to pass that would have made life so much better for vets.  A long one.

So, until this country gets off its ass and votes these ungrateful bastards assholes out of office, please don't tell me thanks for serving - your thanks should come in the form of a vote to correct the terrible way we treat our vets.

Every vet should be guaranteed a job when discharged.  Job training should be available if he/she needs it.  Those wounded should be guaranteed medical care for life.  Those maimed should not only get free medical care for life, but should be allowed to get that medical care at the best civilian facilities available - at government expense - for life.

We asked them to serve, and they volunteered.  We should treat them like we truly appreciate it.

THAT is better than a thousand years worth of Veteran's Days.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

"When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why so many people are poor they call me a communist."

On my Facebook page this morning, I shared a post about an article on CNN's Belief Blog.  The story began with a description of a pastor of a Southern church talking about ObamaCare, and how Christians should be concerned about the people who have dropped between the gaps because of the refusal of Conservatively controlled States to refuse the Medicare Expansion part of the ACA.
McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger. 
“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside.  Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”
 The blog is very well written, and I shared it because I think it should be widely read.  It is a fairly balanced piece that covers the situation well.  It shows the concerns of both sides of the issue and tries to give an honest look at what both sides are saying.

I won't even try to recap that blog here.  It is done very well by a professional journalist I cannot compete with in the ability to do background work and research, combined with a well polished ability to craft the English language.  I don't have the time for research and don't write for a living.

So, I will use this story as a starting point for another part of the issue.

Well down in the piece is an examination of the differing points of view which examine the differing attitudes about just how the mechanics of caring for the poor might work out - is the government meant to be part of the solution or not?

Now, I am not going to try to claim any kind of theological insight.  I am NOT a trained theologian.  I wouldn't even get out of the Registration office of a Theological Seminary, much less into a class!

But it sounds like the argument goes like this.

On one side, Jesus said that it is is up to the individual to do what he can do for the poor, and there is nothing in the bible to say that the government should get involved.

Progressives, on the other hand, say that approach is ineffective because there isn't enough money in the private charity "market" to do enough good.  That it is unChristian to claim that the government should stay out of the issue even if there isn't enough to cover the problem.

Needless to say, I take the Progressive side, but I want to expand on the logic a bit.

Since this is largely an argument aimed at the religiously conservatives, let's concentrate on the biblical side of this for now.

Is it true that Jesus never meant for the government to get involved?
The Rev. Phil Wages, senior pastor Winterville First Baptist Church in Georgia and a blogger, was one of the few Bible Belt ministers willing to speak on the subject.
“I do not see any biblical precedent where Jesus ever went to Herod or Pilate and said you should be taking care of the poor,” Wages says. “Jesus told his disciples to take care of the poor and the apostles said the same thing to the early church.” 
Wages’ position is impractical and unbiblical, says Ronald Sider, a longtime advocate for the poor and author of “The Scandal of Evangelical Politics." 
Churches and charities don’t have enough resources to take care of an estimated 48 million Americans who don’t have health care. The Bible is filled with examples of God's fury over economic oppression of the poor, which Christians should regard as scandalous, he says. 
“If you are not sharing God’s concern for the poor, it raises huge questions about whether you are a Christian at all,” he says about pastors who say nothing about the uninsured poor. 
What I think folks Like Pastor Wages are missing is that when Jesus urged Christians (his followers) to care for the poor, he wasn't just talking to a nonexistent middle class.  He was talking to everybody!

Context, people, context.  At the time of Jesus (or the second century, when some say the Gospels were finally finished), governments were not democratic.  The government of a country consisted of a King, or a Warlord, or in the case of the Roman empire, a small group of very wealthy members of the ruling class.  The only known example of a program for feeding or caring for the poor administered by a government was where Rome fed the mobs of the poor in that city, and THAT was more a political ploy to obtain the political backing of those unorganized mobs of common folk.

No other "governments" had any kind of program to feed or care for the poor in the context of what we mean in this country today.  That IS one of the reasons the French, for example, overthrew their monarchy and cut off as many noble heads as they could!  They got tired of getting the scraps.

But should that matter?  No.  Jesus was, I am sure, even talking to the rulers.  There was nothing standing in their way to keep them from using their power and wealth to help the poor in their country.

Today, the context is different.  In large portions of the world, including this country, we have (officially, anyway) a democratic form of government.  That means the government is WE, THE PEOPLE.  It is US.

Nothing Jesus said precludes any kind of communal action to form a community based program to feed or care for the poor and unfortunate among us.  In fact, the first churches were formed into communities where people's wealth and efforts were handed over to the community at large, specifically for the purpose of caring for the less fortunate of the group!  The Epistles of Paul clearly show this to be true.

In short, the very first Christian communities were in fact, communes!  Their very purpose was to use the community itself to care for the poor among them, in keeping with Jesus' teachings.

Somehow, the Evangelical community in the US has lost sight of this fact of their very own history.

I would argue that the progressives have the right approach.

It is more efficient and powerful to use one single entity to guide and control the administration of assistance to the poor across the whole country.  The overhead is lower, the rules are standard across the entire country, there are no geographical gaps of coverage (the poor in rural areas are as covered as are those in the cities) and it is easier to catch and guard against fraud if one is looking at one entity rather than thousands!

Of course, none of this says there is any problem with private entities or churches or even private individuals handling their own responses and efforts on behalf of the poor they may see and encounter.

Remember, Jesus' teachings were for ALL to care for the poor.  Especially today, when we have a form of government that consists of  (theoretically) all the people, one can argue that those teachings and imperatives apply to the government also.

I think the word we should be using is "inclusive".  In such a rich country, everybody should be included in the gravy train.

Which brings me to the last point I want to make.

Another meme on Facebook recently is the point that if one is "pro-life", one shouldn't just care for the unborn, but for all life, especially those poor enough for their lives to be in danger because of that economic position.

A post the other day linked to a piece by MSNBC about Wendy Davis in Texas and her expansion of the words Pro-life" to mean exactly this!

This is what I am talking about.  We should care about every American.  We should care about all people and the welfare of all.  Forget the special circumstances of some to the detriment of others.  The concern should be for all life.

It would change how we do practically everything.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

So, you think you live in a Democracy?

I want to tell you the story of two police related incidents.  One occurred in Chicago and one in New Mexico, Hidalgo County.

In Chicago, one Flint Farmer was shot by a Chicago cop.  He was lying on the ground, face down when the cop fired three rounds into Farmer's back, killing him.  The officer had two prior shooting incidents THAT YEAR, but had not been placed on leave, or charged or placed on any kind of special watch by his supervisor.  The Chicago prosecutor now says that since he could have mistaken Farmer's cell phone for a gun, he will not be charged with a crime.

In New Mexico, David Eckert was stopped for a minor traffic violation, coasting through a stop sign.  When told to get out of his vehicle, one of the two cops thought he saw Eckert "clinch his buttocks".  He was detained on suspicion of having narcotics and taken to a nearby medical center, where they waited for a search warrant for a cavity search.  Upon obtaining the warrant, the doctors at the center refused to perform the search due to ethical concerns.  So the two officers packed up Mr. Eckert and took him to another medical center, where doctors weren't so picky.  He was violated physically numerous times as late as early the next morning with doctor's fingers, enema paraphernalia, and finally, a colonoscopy tool with a camera while Mr. Eckert was under anesthesia.  The last took place after the time period of the warrant had expired.

In addition, the medical center in question was in ANOTHER COUNTY, rendering the warrant completely invalid on its face, since the warrant had been issued in an adjacent county by a county judge.

The problems with these two stories are legion.  Official misconduct in both cases, obviously.  A complete disregard for standard police procedures also in both cases.  A total disregard for the civil rights of the victims. (I refuse to call them suspects) A failure of supervising authority to both train and supervise their officers in proper legalities and procedure, and an additional failure of the management of the entire justice system in Chicago to restrain an out of control officer or even adhere to proper procedure in failing to administer a blood alcohol test ( the officer had been drinking before coming on duty) and by allowing a possibly alcohol impaired officer out in public with a firearm.

What is so different about these two cases?  Amazingly, nothing.  You can google various key words and get dozens of such stories almost every day across the country.  

Oh, well, maybe one thing;  both victims were white.

But really, nothing else stands out, which is the biggest problem.  Even with national attention, the cops in these cases will probably not suffer any more than some vague administrative penalty, if that.  Maybe an ass chewing by the boss, and that to the two in New Mexico, because the invalidation of the warrant kills any possibility of prosecution.  Not because they had him officially butt-raped, but because they took him to another county.

We have become inured to this kind of official violence.

So inured, in fact, that when several State legislatures, including the Virginia legislature, passed laws forcing invasive sonograms on pregnant women who want abortions, much of the public... yawned. The outrage was, for many people, the abortion restrictions, not so much the official rape the procedure involves.

Welcome to Theocracy, folks.  This is what it looks like.  Laws passed over the objection of a majority of the population (most Americans support some easy form of abortion by choice), police able to violate the rights of citizens (even white ones) without consequence and with mostly very little public outrage.

is this how the great American Experiment ends?  Not with a bang but without even a whimper?  Are we such wimps that we will allow our public officials to run roughshod over our rights, pass laws that ignore our expressed wishes, and gerrymander election districts so they can stay in office indefinitely?

I've written extensively about the Dominionists in this space.  Yes, I believe that there IS a right wing conspiracy to bring theocracy to this country, and I believe we are partway through their agenda.

No, I don't necessarily think that the stories I noted above are specifically the result of that conspiracy.  But they don't help us resist, either.  Corrupt and unaccountable cops are likely to play right into the hands of those theocrats, because if the cops are already accustomed to violating people's rights through sheer negligence without consequence, taking that extra step to deliberate oppression shouldn't be that big a step to make.  It certainly puts police officials into the position of being blackmailed into these kinds of activities, if they were to be reluctant.

Ignore these signs at your peril. Theocracy is at our doorstep, if we don't take deliberate action to forestall its installation.  Corruption in our government is not only bad in and of itself, but plays right into the hands of those who already call our government dysfunctional.

Let's work to fix that, huh?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Yesterday, the GOP in Virginia lost big time.  Both the Governor and Lt. Governor slots fell to the Democrats, and the AG race is still tied at 50% each - less than a thousand votes apart.

I watched the whole thing on Rachael Maddow last night and was interested to see her pet Republican political commentator pass the whole loss off to the Republican's poor tactics.  He felt that if the big national money doners hadn't sat out, the Party had paid more to put ads in the crucial northern Virginia market, and hadn't used a convention method to choose an ideologically pure Tea Party candidate, and that candidate had tried harder to appeal to the independent voters instead of his base, that "We'd be sitting here talking about the Republican Governor- elect."

Now, I am not a political pundit, nor any kind of expert on Virginia politics.  But, I can read the proverbial tea leaves in the form of polling data, and from what I've seen in the last month, plus exit polling from yesterday, Cuccinelli and the Tea Party lost, not because of esoteric electoral tactical failures, but because Cuccinelli and the Tea Party are out of touch with American's social values.

The one thing that kind of leaps out at you is the fact that in exit polling, 20% of those voting noted that abortion was their main reason for casting the vote they did.  59% of those voted in favor of the Democratic winner.  That translates to over 12% of those casting votes, more than enough to put the winning tally in the Democratic column.  Add to that the pissed off women who disliked the Republicans efforts in the last year to push invasive ultrasound procedures on women getting abortions, and I'd say that pretty much clinches the idea that the Tea Party's efforts to ensure an ideologically pure candidate is the main reason for their defeat yesterday.

Not esoteric, failed electoral tactics.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Whence cometh the rights of man?

I covered, on this blog's Facebook page this weekend, the minor kerfuffle between Glen Beck and the blogger "An Atheist in Wheaton", James Kirk Wall over the question of whether the rights guaranteed us in the Constitution are given us by god or by man.  Glen Beck had made the statement about our rights being god given, Wall wrote a post disagreeing, Beck then smacked back at Wall, and now Wall has replied in a post once again.

While I applaud Wall for a nicely put together answer to Beck's drek, I do have a problem with his statement about laws vs. rights:
A right is something considered to be morally good, justified or acceptable. A law provides rules and resulting penalties for certain actions.
I think he's got his terms defined incorrectly.  Let's consult Wikipedia, since Merriam Webster's dictionary online doesn't define it:
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. 
Laws, on the other hand, are different.  Since we consulted Wikipedia for the first term, lets stick with it here too:
Law is a term which does not have a universally accepted definition,[2] but one definition is that law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior.[3] Laws can be made by legislatures through legislation (resulting in statutes), the executive through decrees and regulations, or judges through binding precedents (normally in common law jurisdictions). Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including (in some jurisdictions) arbitration agreements that exclude the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution (written or unwritten) and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, and society in various ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. 
So, we have a definite difference between the two terms.  Rights are principles of freedom or entitlement.  Laws are rules governing behavior and often providing an organizational structure for some social or legal grouping of people.

From a practical point of view, say, in the US, a right is paired by a Constitutional limitation of the government's ability to infringe on that right.  It could also create the necessity for government to promulgate laws to protect that right, as in our 4th amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizures.  The government has had to make all sorts of rules governing the efforts of law enforcement agencies to prevent either deliberate or accidental abridgment of that right.

So, Wall IS closer to the idea of a law.  Laws do provide rules, and they also provide penalties for handling people who violate those rules.

Wikipedia also delineates between two types of rights - natural rights vs. legal or civil rights.  Neither Beck nor Wall differentiate between the two, but I think that difference is important.

Why?  Natural rights are the ones spoken of in the Declaration of Independence.  They are immutable, inalienable and cannot be taken away, because they are inherent in your existence as a human being.  A common right of this type is the Right to Life.  A movement today in the US is the idea that there is a human right to health care, because good health care both lengthens one's life and makes the one you've got of better quality.  Natural rights are universal and apply to all human beings, and are often seen as expanding as human society becomes more progressive in nature.

Legal rights, on the other hand, are better defined by Beck's idea that there are rights that can be given or taken by parliamentary edict.  These kind of rights are based on cultural norms and practices.  An example might be the right to drive.  Your right to drive is conditional, those conditions based on laws setting forth the rules for how to obtain a license, etc.  Not all citizens are allowed that right, and those rights may change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction or from time to time.  So, NOT inalienable.

Wall's description of how our rights are determined are very descriptive of natural rights.  He uses a quote from good old George Washington:
“The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government” 
George Washington, Circular to the States, June 8, 1783
 But Beck makes the complaint, as Wall describes it:
Glenn Beck implies this statement means I would have no problem with mankind taking my rights away. I would just say, “Oh well, evolution.”
Which is perfectly descriptive of a legal right.  A right that CAN be given or taken away by legal edict.

So, who is right?

I think Wall has it better outlined.  Beck is, as the right wing often does, using confusion and misdirection to attack the other side, with nothing more than simple declarations to make his own point.

If our rights were to come from a god, then our rights in this country would be severely curtailed.  The bible is NOT designed to protect nor organize democracy among men.  It is designed to lay the foundation for a theocratic form of tribal control over the ancient Hebrews, hence gives no basis for civil rights as we know them, nor any kind of guarantee of individual rights against governmental action.  In fact, fully half of the Ten Commandments are fully in violation of our First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion and speech!

It is obvious to any even halfway educated person that our Constitution was founded upon the Principles of the Enlightenment as espoused and written about by many of our Founding Fathers.  The Constitution lays the foundation for a secular government, not a theocracy, so the idea that the rights it guarantees may have come from religion is, to say the least, absurd.

One last note.

The right wing, when it talks about our nation having a religious foundation, uses this tactic of mixing terms and loose definitions of terms to good use again, by its use of the phrase "We are a Christian Nation".

They talk about the government being a theocracy, while their arguments are often about the numbers of colonists who may have been christian.

Our GOVERNMENT is founded and organized by the Constitution, which is a secular document that only mentions religion in restrictive terms, limiting the government's involvement in it.

The NATION, on the other hand, was settled by mostly Europeans, who at the time, were mostly Christians of various stripes.

This conflation of the two ideas is deliberate, as too many liberals and supporters of the Separation of Church and State fail to see and remark on this tactic.  The government and the nation are NOT synonymous!  They are two different entities, with two different histories and origins.

The fact of whether this country was populated by mostly Christians or not is irrelevant to the issue of whether the Constitution mandates separation between the church and the State.  European history is rife with stories of wars, intrigue, and struggles over religion, its rules, whose rules would govern and which particular stripe of Christianity was the right one to rule.

Arguably, over the centuries, well over a million or more human beings were killed, either through deliberate action or through disease and starvation during the conflicts engendered by religion in Europe alone.

Our Constitution was intended to prevent that.  The solution was to keep the government OUT of the religion business and to prevent ANY religious group from dominating the government, and thus, the rule making business of governing the American people.

Thus, guaranteeing the American population the right to religious freedom, whether that meant a complete devotion to a religious culture, like the Amish or the Mormons, or a complete divorce from it, as we atheists would have it.

In other words, like the Republicans would say, leave it up to the INDIVIDUAL.  Keep the government out of it. (Another Republican principle.)